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Volume 53 Number 8, March 18, 2023 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Wave of Strike Action As Government Holds Pay-the-Rich Budget Day


On Wednesday at least 40,000 strikers marched through central London to a rally in Trafalgar Square - Photo: WSWS

A wave of strike action took place over the past week, peaking around the day of the Spring Budget on Wednesday, March 15. An estimated 400,000 to half a million people across various sectors of the socialised economy struck work together on that day alone.

On Wednesday itself, 40,000 marched through central London. Two main contingents assembled in Hyde Park and Embankment, led by the NEU and PCS respectively, converging on a rally with speeches in Trafalgar Square.

Teachers Strike


Rally outside Liverpool's Metropolitan Cathedral including junior doctors, teachers and civil servants, March 15 - Photo: Andrew Teebay, Liverpool Echo

Over 100,000 teachers struck work again on Wednesday and Thursday, continuing their biggest period of strike action in thirty years, affecting the vast majority of schools across the country. The NEU is demanding a fully-funded pay increase due to rising inflation and ten years' worth of real-term pay cuts. Pay has fallen 23% in real terms since 2010, leaving some teachers in desperate conditions. Other issues, "causing disruption and long-term damage to education every day" according to NEU joint General Secretary Kevin Courtney [1], include rising class sizes, support for special educational needs, recruitment and retention of staff, schools in disrepair, and excessive workload. The struggle for a properly funded and modern education system has been ongoing for many years, with teachers questioning the future of education that is being unsustainably underfunded and undermined. Their actions have exposed for all to see that the very future of education is at stake. Forms must be found to empower them to discuss and provide the solutions themselves.

"Teachers want to be listened to," as Courtney said. "Their concerns are serious. We are willing to meet and discuss them, to negotiate a way forward at any time." He pointed out that the "NEU ballot result, the influx of new members to the union and the degree of parental support have been unsettling for ministers", who have been attempting to undermine the stand of the teachers. The government in England has taken the "very new and unusual" step of imposing preconditions to negotiation, demanding that the strikes be cancelled before they would even make a first offer on pay and funding.

The crisis has developed to a point where the block to discussing the future of education must be overcome, with teachers themselves at the forefront of this discussion. It is noteworthy then that teachers have forced progress in Wales and Scotland, where such preconditions were not declared, serious offers have been made, and strike action has been postponed or ended.

University Staff Strike


Strike actions and protests across York

University staff struck from Wednesday until the following Wednesday, involving 70,000 staff at 150 universities across Britain, including academics, librarians, and other staff. This will complete the 18 days of planned action, which began on February 9, though the UCU is now re-balloting to extend action to the end of the academic year. In a struggle marked by employers' imposition and refusal to negotiate, union members voted to reject the latest pay offer, worth for most only around 5%. The National Union of Students backed staff taking the strike action, which impacted on 2.5 million students.

The context is 10 years of real-terms pay cuts. Staff do an average of two days' additional unpaid work per week, while a third of academic staff on temporary contracts. The demands include a meaningful pay rise to deal with the inflation crisis, ending insecure contracts, and addressing severe workloads. Pension demands include revoking cuts made last year and restoring benefits. The pension cuts will see the average member lose 35% of their guaranteed future retirement income. For those early in their careers, the losses are in the hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Higher education workers add huge value to the economy, and contribute to culture and society by producing highly skilled graduates and postgraduates, and carry out research that leads to scientific and technological advances. Education is a right and should serve society. In struggling for their rights and claims, academics and higher education workers, as well as school teachers, are fighting for the rights of all.


Junior Doctors Strike


Junior doctors picket in Leeds

Junior doctors in England held a virtually unprecedented 72-hour strike from Monday to Wednesday. 98% of junior doctors on a turnout of 77% in England voted in favour of action, affecting emergencies, general practise, and planned care. Junior doctors make up 45% of the medical workforce and include recent graduates through to those with 10 years of experience. The nearly 50,000 doctors were striking to demand a pay rise of 35% and pay restoration after real-terms cuts since 2008 and measures to address overwork and retention issues. Though the BMA have met with ministers in recent weeks, there have been no formal pay talks, and the government has made it clear they are not willing to meet their demands. They are "demoralised, angry and no longer willing to work for wages that have seen a real-terms decline of over 26 per cent in the past 15 years," said a BMA spokesperson [2].

Transport Workers Strike

In the transport sector, London Underground drivers and staff, members of Aslef and RMT, struck on Wednesday over job losses, pension scheme changes, and changes to working agreements. Then on Thursday and Saturday, strikes were held by members of RMT at 14 train companies around the country. Rail workers are demanding with pay rises, and are challenging so-called "modernisation" plans, which involve cuts to scheduled maintenance tasks, ticket office closures, and thousands of jobs lost. At the same time, a Network Rail action on Thursday was suspended while RMT members consider an improved pay offer in their ongoing dispute.

Civil Servants Strike

Around 133,000 civil servants struck work on Wednesday over low pay levels. The action by members of PCS affected 124 government departments and services, including the Cabinet Office, the Department for Education, the Home Office, the Department for Transport, the Department for Work and Pensions, National Highways, the UK Health Security Agency, the HMRC, the DVLA, and the Border Force, seriously disrupting arrivals at air and sea ports [3].

"Unless ministers put more money on the table, our strikes will continue to escalate, beginning on March 15," said PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka before the strike [4].

Media Workers Strike

Media workers held a 24-hour strike at various BBC Local studios and offices from Wednesday to Thursday.

"The BBC must recognise the damaging impact of recent decisions and engage fully with the union, to reach a solution in the dispute over cuts to local radio," the NUJ said in a statement made in the midst of the Lineker affair. The action "is about the future of quality local news in the many diverse communities the BBC serves. Plans to axe radio shows and reduce resources have caused dismay and anger amongst NUJ members who know the true value of trusted local news."

"The BBC's much-vaunted Digital First strategy should not be implemented at the expense of news and content that is genuinely local and accessible. At the heart of these plans, there is a funding issue created by the government's decision to freeze the licence fee, but it also lays bare a deeper question of what the BBC's role and purpose is in a digital age. At a time of polarised debate, where high levels of distrust are cynically whipped up in echo chambers amplified by algorithms, a public service broadcaster like the BBC should be prized and protected, not hollowed out or left vulnerable to the whims of any government of the day," said the union. [5]

Other industrial action coinciding with the Budget included Amazon workers in Coventry on a week-long strike. [6]


Notes

1. Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary, National Education Union (NEU), "Ministers are trying to undermine teacher strikes. Their behaviour is counterproductive," Schools Week, March 11, 2023
https://schoolsweek.co.uk/ministers-are-trying-to-undermine-teacher-strikes-their-behaviour-is-counterproductive/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ministers-are-trying-to-undermine-teacher-strikes-their-behaviour-is-counterproductive

2. "BMA announces dates for 72-hour walk out by Junior doctors in England, saying Health Secretary has left them 'with no choice'," British Medical Association (BMA), February 24, 2023
https://www.bma.org.uk/bma-media-centre/bma-announces-dates-for-72-hour-walk-out-by-junior-doctors-in-england-saying-health-secretary-has-left-them-with-no-choice

3. "Strike action to affect travellers and goods entering the UK on 15 March," Home Office, March 7, 2023
https://www.gov.uk/government/news/strike-action-to-affect-travellers-and-goods-entering-the-uk-on-15-march
4."33,000 more civil servants vote for strike action," Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), February 28, 2023
|LINKhttps://www.pcs.org.uk/contact-us/press-media-contacts/33000-more-civil-servants-vote-strike-action|

5. "NUJ statement on the BBC as journalists prepare to strike," National Union of Journalists (NUJ), March 12, 2023
https://www.nuj.org.uk/resource/nuj-statement-on-the-bbc-as-journalists-prepare-to-strike.html

6. "Support the mass 15th March Budget Day Strike," National Shop Stewards Network
https://www.shopstewards.net/2023/03/nssn-626-support-the-mass-15th-march-budget-day-strike/


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